I’m at the point in my writing where I have several novels polished and queries ready to go to agents. The only thing that stands in the way of me sending them off is writing the dreaded synopsis. No big deal, right? It’s just a summary of my book. I wrote a whole novel. I can sum it up in a few double-spaced pages. Easier said than done.
A synopsis is not just a play by play of the main events of your story, ie: this happened, then that happened. Yes, the most important plot points need to be there, but so does characterization, emotion, and voice. The synopsis needs to convey the mood or tone of your book. Is it light and funny or scary and dark? You must show, not tell the important highlights of the story, using active, not passive voice.
As far as length and line-spacing go, guidelines for structuring a short synopsis vary. A good rule of thumb is to keep it to 2-3 double-spaced pages. Write it in third person, present tense. Make sure everything connects and makes sense. Clarity is key. The tricky part is knowing what to leave in and what to leave out. Include only scenes that move the story forward as well as the ending of the story. Leave out dialogue, description, editorializing, and any information about yourself.
The formula for a synopsis is similar to an outline. Start with the opening hook and setting. What sets your book a part from others and makes it special? Does it take place in some exotic location or in another world or time period?
After that, introduce the main character and his/her motivation. What is your character’s biggest goal, the thing he/she wants more than anything else in the world? Is it being with the one he/she loves? Getting into Harvard? Saving the world? What does he/she need to do to accomplish this goal? What will happen if they don’t accomplish it? What is the consequence? Will someone die? Will the world end?
Next comes the inciting incident. What happens to set the story in motion? Does someone die? Does the character move to a new place? Is there a disaster that occurs? Is your character injured? Do they lose their job or break up with their significant other? Is your character robbed? Do they lose their life savings? Do aliens attack?
Then comes the turning point. What action or decision does your character take or make that changes the course of the story? Does your character change jobs? Move to a different city? Break up with someone? Do they go off to school? Do they leave on a journey or quest?
Now begin introducing other important characters. Only name a few main characters (ie: the antagonist, love interest, or sidekick). Use titles for other important side characters (mother, brother, waitress, captain, teacher, etc). Don’t include all the characters. How do these relationships start out and evolve as the story progresses?
Be sure to include the major conflict of your story in your synopsis. What is standing in the way of your character reaching their goal? How do they feel about or react to this opposition? This can be inner or outer conflict. Self doubt or fear that holds them back or a dragon that guards the treasure.
Now your character reaches the point of no return: What does your character do to resolve the problem? What do they have to sacrifice or give up to achieve their goal? How does this affect them? What is the consequence of this action? Do they risk their life to save a friend?
The point of no return leads to the lowest point: This is where the character reaches rock bottom, where the odds of succeeding seem impossible. They have to fight to find strength to face the final confrontation. Maybe they are locked in a dungeon or sentenced to death.
The final confrontation or battle must be shown in the synopsis. So does the resolution. What are the rewards and payoffs. Does your character get the guy or girl? Do they save the world and their love ones? Do they accomplish their goal? How does your character change from the beginning to the end of the story?
I used this formula to create my synopsis and it worked. I hope it helps others struggling with writing a synopsis and makes the experience less dreadful. Good luck!